Graham Kilmer
MKE County

Parks Plans to Rebuild Washington Park Bridges

Aggressive construction timeline to replace two lagoon bridges by end of year.

By - May 13th, 2023 12:43 pm

Washington Park lagoon bridge rendering by EXP.

The two bridges running across the Washington Park Lagoon could be replaced by the end of the year.

Milwaukee County Parks is currently designing two new bridges to replace the existing bridges that were built in 1938 and are in serious need of repair.

A 2022 report by an engineering consultant, EXP US Services, found the bridge decks “have experienced significant deterioration” and the stone facade is “crumbling and disintegrating” on the wing walls that support either end of the bridges. The bridge railings are not compliant with contemporary standards and vegetation has grown up around the bridge ends obscuring their views.

The plan is to replace them with two new concrete bridges that use design elements similar to the existing bridges, in order to maintain their historic look. Pathways leading up to the bridges will be rebuilt according to ADA standards. Parks also plans to work with the Urban Ecology Center on native plantings along the nearby slopes that should improve views of and from the bridges, as well as help with erosion around the bridge supports.

Parks contemplated several options for the bridges including rehabbing the existing bridges, constructing new concrete bridges, new timber bridges and new steel truss bridges. Ultimately, the department opted for new concrete bridges.

New concrete bridges do come with the largest upfront cost, but they have the longest lifespan of all the options, and cost less to maintain over that lifespan. Also, according to parks, they “should provide a design aesthetic appropriate to the setting while also meeting stated design considerations for the new bridges.”

The Milwaukee County Board appropriated approximately $1.25 million for design and construction through the 2020 and 2023 budgets. Parks is planning to have plans for construction completed by the end of June and construction started by September, with the project substantially finished by winter.

The nonprofit Urban Ecology Center has a lease for the Washington Park Boathouse and is fundraising for the development of a new facility there and new amenities for the park. Parks is advancing the bridge projects along a timeline that should allow them to be finished before the boathouse project breaks ground, according to a parks report.

Washington Park is one of the three parks in Milwaukee County designed by famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted. It’s among the first parks developed for the parks system, which was originally a creation of the City of Milwaukee Parks Board in the late 19th century. Designed and built in the 1890s, the lagoon is an iconic, original feature of Olmstead’s design. It was originally dredged as a seven-acre lake in the middle of the park in 1894, and later expanded by another four acres in 1907, according to the 2022 bridge consultant’s report.

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Categories: MKE County, Parks

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